Former Intel CEO: Smart people, smart ideas key to remaining globally competitive

To remain competitive in a transitioning global economy, three areas demand investment: education, the research and development of smart ideas, and cultivating the right environment for economic growth.

That was the message of Craig Barrett, the former CEO of Intel Corporation and the current president and chairman of Basis Schools, who spoke at this morning’s Leadership Power Breakfast, presented by Business Report.

The global economy in the 21st century is in a period of transition, Barrett told the crowd of Baton Rouge community leaders and business executives. The United States is no longer the premier, most-competitive economy in the world, and the competition is tough, but this is when opportunities arise.

“Market shares are won and lost during periods of transitions,” he says.

If you want to win, Barrett turns to his three pieces of fortune-cookie advice:

  1. If you want to win, you have to compete.  
  2. The world will always accept talent with open arms.
  3. A small deed done is better than a great deed planned.

Education—and research universities in particular—is key to competing and developing talent in today’s global economy, according to Barrett. He points to Silicon Valley as our nation’s best example.

“At its core is research universities,” Barrett says. “They create the bulk of ideas and smart people.”

He also points to the importance of K-12 education in the U.S., which for years has been falling behind other countries because the system is so resistant to change.

But there’s no need to wait for change to come down from the federal government or some large global body. Most progress, Barrett says, happens as upward growth from one individual or community.

“You can do things without waiting for permission—you can grow from the bottom up,” Barrett says, returning to his third fortune cookie theme of small deeds are better than great plans. “The 21st century is full of transitions and those are opportunities to gain market share. You have to be willing to compete. Put your house in order.”

Barrett repeats what he calls the “three levers” you must pull: Education, R&D and having the right business environment.

The U.S. is in a pretty good position, but Barrett recalls what his old Intel boss, Andy Grove, used to say about being in a good position—that’s when you should be worried. He then quoted the title of Grove’s book—“Only the Paranoid Survive”—before adding, “Digest that.”